Tag Archives: Technology

food waste

New IBM Challenge Puts Solving Food Waste in the Hands of Developers

By Maria Fontanazza
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food waste

Nearly 40% of U.S.-produced food is not consumed, according to a 2018 report by The Center for Biological Diversity. In addition, retailers are named as the largest culprits when it comes to food waste. IBM estimates that supermarkets tossed about 16 billion pounds of food last year alone. The technology company is working to get more involved in this problem and is holding the Food Waste Developer Challenge in an effort to find solutions to help reduce waste.

John Walicki, IBM
John Walicki, senior technical staff member, CTO IoT developer advocacy at IBM

“Often, innovation comes from unexpected places. IBM’s sponsorship of the Food Waste Developer Challenge encourages developers to use their unique expertise toward solving some of society’s hardest problems,” says John Walicki, senior technical staff member, CTO IoT developer advocacy at IBM. “We hope to ignite an open community of impassioned developers to create solutions that improve the food supply chain and reduce food waste.” In a Q&A with Food Safety Tech, Walicki explains the important role that technology could play in stopping the ongoing food waste problem.

Food Safety Tech: What are the biggest challenges in addressing food waste?

John Walicki: One big issue is that the data around a product’s age, origin and journey lies with different parties or isn’t being tracked at all. Without shared visibility into these product attributes, at all stages of their life, it’s hard for grocers and producers to optimize how they sell and fulfill each item to guard against waste. And while less waste has a direct impact for the bottom line, more than ever, it has just as big of an impact in the mind of the increasingly belief-driven customer. According the 2018 Edelman Brand Survey, nearly two-thirds of consumers now choose, switch to or boycott a company based on its stand on societal issues, up from 51% in 2017.

FST: What is the goal of IBM’s Food Waste Developer Challenge?

Walicki: The goal of the challenge is to excite and crowd-source the minds of the developer community to create creative cloud-based, AI-enabled solutions for reducing food waste. For example, developers in the challenge have access to open-source code patterns for IoT, blockchain, AI-enabled bots, and more from IBM they can leverage in creating a solution. Nearly all of these capabilities are available for free on the IBM Cloud.

FST: Where are the key areas in which the food industry should be collaborating to solve these issues?

Walicki: The supply chain is the area [that] a lot of food retailers and producers are looking at. Better visibility into where the food is coming from, when, and its conditions are key in understanding when food will perish, etc. This involves collaboration from every partner all the way from the farm to when the customer purchases the product. The food chain is such a connected eco-system today. It’s really a team game in terms of generating solutions.

In addition, retailers are working to get better visibility into real-time on-hand inventories, so they can better know exactly how much of a certain product they have, so they can take prescriptive action if needed. More and more this type of insight requires the integration of data across many systems, both cloud-based and not. This means tight collaboration for food retailers internally and with suppliers.

Robotic technology, automation

Automation Bandwagon: Know the Challenges Before Jumping On

By Maria Fontanazza
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Robotic technology, automation

The food industry is behind high tech industries when it comes to automating certain manufacturing and warehousing processes. Although the advantages of using automation technologies can benefit many food companies in the long run, they should also be aware of the potential hurdles before moving forward. “With our growing population, we’re going to have to grow more food with [fewer] resources—automation will enable us to do that,” said Wendy White, project manager, food safety at Georgia Tech during her presentation at the IAFP annual meeting in Louisville, KY. “There are a lot of jobs in our industry that will benefit from automation—I don’t think it will necessarily eliminate jobs; I think it will help eliminate the harshness of some of the repetitive tasks.”

The benefits of automation are clear (especially for processes that involve close precision). Automation technologies can contribute to preventing injuries on the job, promote operational efficiencies, and give companies better access to records and reporting. They also can in turn enable the production of more consistent products, aid in faster product release and lower food costs. The following are the challenges that food companies may face, which include the reproduction of human senses, having the facility footprint that allows for these technologies, expense and complexity, and potential vulnerability to outages and even cybercrimes.

Challenge 1: It’s hard to replicate a human. It’s difficult to replicate any human task that requires thought. “For example, it’s hard for us to understand how many decisions go into picking off an apple from a tree,” said White. “It’s actually extremely hard for a robot to do… we underestimate how many things happen before you pick an apple.” White referred to a project at the Georgia Tech Research Institute’s Food Processing Technology Division that uses cameras to assess characteristics of an apple (i.e., insect intrusion spots, bruises, damage, ripeness, desired color), and integrates different sensing capabilities into a robotic arm. The robotic arm can sense the different gases being produced by the apple and can understand if it is at the peak of its ripeness. Yet, doing this type of work in a lab is very different from operating the robotic arm out in an actual apple orchard, so there is still a lot of work to be done.

Another example is the process of deboning a chicken carcass. “We have to figure out a way to get the bones off faster,” said White, adding that with American consumption of chicken reaching about 92 pounds annually, the poultry industry is trying to keep up. There are safety concerns with deboning, including making sure that a sliver of bone or cartilage is not left on the end product. It’s another task that is not easy for a robot to execute. She discussed current work that is using cameras and x-ray technology to understand the joint location, and from there this information is fed into an algorithm to help the robot make decisions that a trained human would intrinsically make. Once again, it takes a lot of effort for a robot to make those decisions, White pointed out.

Challenge 2: Facility footprint. Implementing automation technologies usually requires a larger facility footprint, and many food companies simply don’t have the space.

Challenge 3: Robot injuries. According to OSHA, about 4,500 injuries occurred in food facilities in 2013, two of which were robot related. However, those two robot-related injuries resulted in death. Although robot injuries are less likely to occur, they are usually more serious when they do happen, cautioned White. She stated between 1984 and 2013, 38 robot-related accidents were reported and 28 resulted in fatalities.

Challenge 4: Finding increasingly skilled labor. An employee needs to operate the robot. Although this may not seem like it would be difficult, the question is whether the existing workforce at a company can handle a completely different way of doing their jobs. Finding the level of skill required to either operate these robots or finding the employee who is willing to even work with these technologies could be a hurdle. White added that she is seeing a lot of research around co-bots, or collaborative robots, which is the term for robots that provide assistance to humans in conducting tasks such as heavy lifting.

Challenge 5: Complexity. The more complex the technology, the more likely there is to be an issue. And when this issue occurs, how long will it take to fix? Will it shut down an entire product line? This is also a consideration for companies that are considering retrofitting their existing facilities.

“We owe it to our workforce to make their jobs as safe and as easy as possible,” said White. She encourages industry to pursue automation but to also be aware of these challenges and vulnerabilities to ensure that companies are approaching implementation in the right way.

Colleen Costello, VitalVio
FST Soapbox

Shining New Light on Preventing Food Recalls

By Colleen Costello
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Colleen Costello, VitalVio

Recalls have become an unfortunate reality for the food and beverage industry. It seems every month, another grocer pulls inventory from its shelves due to contaminated products that are potentially harmful for consumers.

Last month, it was Kroger that was forced to remove beef products from stores in Ohio, Kentucky and Indiana as part of Aurora Packing Company’s recall of more than 62,000 pounds of meat that may have been infected with E. coli. Not only do these situations hurt the reputation and bottom line of companies across the food supply chain—from the manufacturer to the retail store—there is the potential for these issues to become deadly.

The CDC counts 3,000 deaths, 128,000 hospitalizations and 48 million foodborne illness cases every year. While the food industry has put stricter guidelines into place for recalling contaminated products, the key to preventing illness is to take an even more proactive stance toward making food free of harmful pathogens before it reaches consumers’ plates.

Unfortunately, this is easier said than done.

The 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo features an entire track on sanitation | October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILComplexities of the Food Supply Chain

The food industry faces unique supply chain challenges. First, consider that the industry is dealing with products that come from the ocean or earth. Once obtained, these products are boxed, sent, in many cases long distances, to a facility via truck or cargo ship, where our foods undergo a number of processing mechanisms before being put back in a shipping container and sent off to a store. When they finally make it in-store, they’re moved from the backroom to the store floor. After all this, these products go into our mouths and through our digestive systems.

There are often many complex steps food has to go through before it makes it into our homes—and with each level of the food supply chain comes a new opportunity for things to go wrong and contamination to happen. What makes the food supply chain even more frightening is that pinpointing the root cause of harmful pathogens—such as E. coli or Listeria—by retracing all the potential contacts points is very challenging given their microscopic nature. All in all, the germs are beating us.

Old Disinfection Techniques Aren’t Cutting It

To mitigate the issue of contamination and avoid those dreaded recalls, food companies have prioritized disinfection. Most often, techniques include manually washing processing equipment with chemicals to keep them sanitized, and even spraying food products with antibiotics to directly kill harmful germs. However, these solutions have many limitations and are either intermittent in their use or insufficient to tackle the complexity of challenges associated with the food processing environment.

First, the tide is beginning to turn on the use of chemicals on food products, with consumers having growing concerns with introducing antibiotics in their food. There’s heightened and justified skepticism over the use of antibiotics and fears over the potential impact on resistance through overuse. In other words, consumers are afraid of the potential side effects from ingesting these chemicals on a daily basis and the alternative resistance bacteria they promote.

The truth is that the excessive use of antibiotics makes them less effective. This is due to frequently exposed bacteria developing resistance to antibiotics over time. The result is that antibiotics are no longer as effective at killing these germs, which is at the heart of great concern for the public’s health.

Resistant bacteria can be passed from food-producing animals to humans in a number of ways. If an animal is carrying resistant bacteria, it can be passed on through meat that is not handled or cooked properly. Plus, food crops are regularly sprayed with fertilizers, which can contain animal manure with resistant bacteria. Once spread to humans, resistant bacteria can stay in the human gut and spread between individuals. The consequences of the introduction of these germs and the subsequent consumption of them include infections that would not have happened otherwise.

Second, cleaning equipment with chemicals and disinfectants is important, but only intermittently effective. While someone working in a food processing plant uses chemicals to clean off a surface or container before food touches it, there’s still an opportunity for harmful bacteria to land on the space in between washes from many sources including the air, packaging, other food, etc. Not to mention there is a wide variety of different surfaces and nodes that food touches as it moves throughout a plant and across the supply chain. Every single surface is a distinct and new opportunity for germs to live, and simply scrubbing these areas a few times a day (or once a day in some cases) simply isn’t enough to keep these germs away. By solely relying on the intermittent use of chemicals to sanitize, it seems virtually impossible to ensure contamination is not ever introduced along the way to your table.

The Introduction of Continuous Disinfection Using Light

Intermittent sanitization hasn’t been disproven to be a wholly effective way to kill germs—it’s simply not a strong enough line of defense in and of itself. Perhaps, one of the best ways to protect our food from harmful bacteria and prevent expensive recalls altogether is to introduce and layer in a new breed of “continuous disinfection” technology using bacteria-killing visible LED lighting directly into the process.

Going back to more than a century ago, scientists have known that certain wavelengths of light are highly effective at destroying bacteria. Ultraviolet (UV) light is extremely powerful, but it is also especially dangerous to humans and causes things like plastics to become brittle and crack. UV light directly impacts the DNA in people, animals and plants, along with bacterial cells.

There is, however, a very human-friendly frequency of light (405 nanometers), which is in the visible spectrum of light, that is completely harmless to humans, but just as devastating to bacteria. It activates the porphyrin molecules that exist only within unicellular organisms such as bacteria and fungi. Humans, animals and plants do not have these particular molecules. Exposure to 405 nm light directly activates these molecules and essentially rusts bacteria from the inside out destroying any bacteria that is exposed to this human-friendly light. The ability of this new LED tool to be safely used around the clock allows for it to be acting continuously. This continuous nature goes above and beyond the existing limitations of intermittent cleaning.

With the advent of LED lighting, it is now possible to “tune” the frequency of light with extreme precision. The significant breakthrough of isolating light to this specific frequency of violet-blue light has now begun to enter the food processing industry. It is taking its place as a critical component to the layered defenses against harmful bacteria entering the food chain. When left on, this light continuously kills bacteria, preventing any germ colonies from forming and replicating. This has now become the perfect complement to the proper cleaning and sanitizing of all surfaces used in food processing and preparation—intermittent chemical cleaning working together with continuous disinfection from light.

In short, avoiding outbreaks and infection crises is all about smart prevention. Recalls are a reactionary solution to the problem. The key to preventing these potentially deadly (and costly) situations is to make sure that all facilities that process and handle food are continuously disinfected. The good news is that tech startups are at the helm of developing these new tools for killing germs before they even have a chance to have a seat at our tables.

Melody Ge, Corvium

Corvium’s Melody Ge Joins Food Safety Tech Advisory Board

By Food Safety Tech Staff
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Melody Ge, Corvium
Melody Ge, Corvium
During the 2019 Food Safety Consortium, Melody Ge will present, “What shall we prepare in this data-driven transitioning time?” on Wednesday, October 2 | View the agenda

Melody Ge, head of compliance at Corvium, Inc. has been appointed to the Food Safety Tech/Food Safety Consortium Advisory Board. Ge joins an esteemed group of food safety professionals who care deeply about helping the industry understand and navigate the various challenges companies face on a daily basis.

“As someone who has contributed insightful knowledge to our publication, we chose to extend an invitation to Melody to join our Board because we think she will be an asset for the industry to learn from when it comes to better compliance and leveraging technology in food safety programs,” said Maria Fontanazza, editor-in-chief of Food Safety Tech, in a Corvium press release.

“All of us in the food industry understand the importance of embracing the best practices to ensure the safest products to protect the public,” said Ge. “I look forward to bringing my experience which complements so many other industry leaders already part of this organization.”

Some of Ge’s recent contributions to Food Safety Tech include:

Bob Burrows, Chainvu
FST Soapbox

Five Steps To Overcome the Catch-22 Dilemma Of Blockchain Adoption In Your Food Supply Chain

By Bob Burrows
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Bob Burrows, Chainvu

Have you ever heard the saying, “It takes a village to raise a child”? This saying can easily be adapted to blockchain in the food supply chain, only it would say, “It takes a village to do blockchain successfully.”

Blockchain, by definition, requires the collaboration and consensus of all of its participants. If you look at a commonly accepted definition, blockchain is a sequence of consensually verified transaction blocks chained together, with each of the supply chain members as an equal owner of the same transaction data.

In the food supply chain context, this means that all supply chain participants—from the farmer/grower to the retail store and, in some scenarios, even the end consumer—have to be part of the blockchain or it will fail.

But therein lies the problem.

The Blockchain Catch-22 Adoption Dilemma

While blockchain has the potential to revolutionize the food industry (e.g., the way we handle food recalls), it puts innovators in today’s complex food supply chains in an awkward Catch-22 dilemma.

Unless you are Walmart or another equally big force in the food industry with the buying power to demand that your suppliers adopt blockchain, you cannot implement blockchain successfully without your entire supply chain joining you. But oftentimes, your partners (and sometimes your management) require the commitment of all others jumping on the blockchain bandwagon.

While this situation could feel intimidating, those obstacles are usually easily overcome with the right arguments presented in a sound business case. I want to share with you five tried-and-true steps to get even the most reluctant technophobic supply chain member excited about blockchain and ready to sign on.

1. Clearly Outline Risks Across the Entire Supply Chain

One of the biggest (and most expensive) mistakes companies make when adopting blockchain is to adopt a new technology purely for the sake of it. Therefore, the starting point for any negotiations should be to outline the real business problems you are trying to solve. Put yourself in the shoes of your partners’ management and explain the problems from their perspective.

But don’t try to boil the ocean—just focus on two or three main issues that could either have disastrous (as in business operation/reputation-destroying) consequences or become extremely costly issues. Additionally, you could include a short list of secondary issues to preempt questions about other concerns.

For example, facing a food safety incident and the associated food recalls could be your primary issues. Secondary issues might be product integrity and spoilage (due to the long transit times and possible temperature fluctuations along the way), compliance with government regulations regarding cost and resources, and the consumers’ demand for transparency and traceability.

2. Calculate the Cost of Doing Nothing

Once you have identified the biggest risks, it’s time to put some numbers on paper.
Let’s stay with the example of food safety and recalls. According to the Grocery Manufacturers Association, the average food recall in the United States costs businesses $30–99 million, which only includes direct costs from retrieval and disposal of recalled items without taking additional expenses for lawsuits, reputational damages and sales losses into account.

What would a recall scenario look like for your company, and what costs would be associated with it? What does your liability management for this scenario look like across the entire supply chain? Walk through the scenario step-by-step and put down realistic numbers. Be sure you can back it up with real data at any point in time.

3. Explain the Proposed Solution (Without Getting Too Technical)

Now that you have outlined the biggest risks and walked them through the numbers, it is time to present your proposed solution. When doing so, keep in mind that most people who are not very familiar with blockchain think immediately of Bitcoin and cryptocurrency—including the hype, unpredictability and hacks.

Rather than leading with technical explanations, try to first explain your solution from a business perspective without using the word “blockchain.” Frank Yiannas, the former Walmart vice president of food safety and now deputy commissioner, food policy and response for the FDA, once described blockchain as “the equivalent of FedEx tracking for food.” This is the level of technicality you want to hit.

Once you have buy-in for the overall approach, you can lay out the technical details including how blockchain, IoT-enabled sensors and smart contracts fit into this picture.

4. Showcase Lowest Hanging Fruit First, Then Define Long-Term Benefits & Soft Savings

Pat yourself on the back—you have just overcome the biggest hurdle in the process. Now it is time to bring the deal home by laying out the quick wins (low-hanging fruit) and the long-term benefits.

If you implement a blockchain solution paired with smart sensors to constantly monitor your product’s temperature, shock impact, moisture and location, a huge quick win could be the ability to immediately identify any potentially spoiled or compromised items. All members of the supply chain could get an instant notification if an exception occurs.

While listing the immediate benefits and calculating potential savings is crucial for getting buy-in, the long-term benefits are also important. For example, you could point out that consumers (especially millennials) are willing to spend more money on brands that offer more transparency, brands they can trust (e.g., authenticity of extra virgin olive oil), and brands they can trace back to their origins (provenance).

In addition, there are also efficiency gains through blockchain. When speaking to your own management, point out the ability to improve your own operations due to the increased level of automation, as well as the opportunity for improving the overall supply chain efficiencies by collecting data across the supply chain.

Just be sure that your benefits correlate with the problems you had outlined initially.

5. Have a Detailed Adoption Roadmap

Last but not least, be prepared to have a detailed adoption road map. This is crucial, as it allows you to take their enthusiasm to the next level. All the other steps are for nought if this isn’t put into action. Go the extra mile to set your project up for success and map out the key details, including:

  • Proposed project timelines (e.g., onboarding phase, trial start and end dates, decision deadlines),
  • Must-meet milestones and key performance indicators
  • Expected road blocks and how you will address them

While this puts extra responsibility on your team, it allows you to keep driving the project forward and at least bring it to a trial or pilot stage that will give you more tangible benefits.

Conclusion

Whether you follow these tips step-by-step or you pick and choose, I would like you to take one thing away from reading this: While there is tremendous potential in blockchain, don’t implement it purely for the sake of catchy headlines or bragging rights! To get your supply chain partners and executive management on board, you must tie the implementation to relevant business use cases to achieve tangible results.

Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management
Bug Bytes

Top 3 Things to Know About Digital Rodent Monitoring

By Alec Senese
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Alec Senese, Bayer Crop Science, Digital Pest Management

The future of rodent control is here. The traditional, time-consuming method of manually checking traps just got a lot smarter thanks to the science of IoT (Internet of Things).

What does IoT enable when it meets a device like a mousetrap? 24/7 monitoring, real-time capture alerts and up-to-the-minute program verification. This means that instead of getting caught up in the cycle of checking and scanning empty traps, now there is the ability to immediately respond to a capture alert and spend the time needed to identify the root cause of the problem. The result? Improved efficiency, audit readiness and protection for your business, brand and the public health.

If you’ve been considering the idea of going digital, it’s likely you have a few questions. The following are the top three things you should know about going digital with your rodent monitoring system:

  1. Technology matters. Before taking a shot in the dark, you need to understand that many types of technology exist on the market, each with unique features and varying levels of detection sensitivity and accuracy. Understanding the pros and cons of available systems is a vital ingredient for success.
  2. Not all network platforms are created equal. Network connectivity in complex environments is a key feature to look for when considering digital rodent systems in order to ensure your system is working reliably 24/7. Everyone is familiar with cellular and WiFi networks, but did you know that these communication platforms can be challenged in factories, food processing facilities, convention centers and other complex environments? (Other network platforms exist and you can refer to this article on wireless modules that operate in the sub-GHz bands to compare their features and characteristics).
  3. False positives are common in many technologies available today. False capture alerts destroy the value proposition of remote monitoring and cause headaches and unnecessary labor. Be sure you understand this key performance metric and invest in a system that has solved this issue.
Doug White, PSSI
FST Soapbox

The Real-Time Value of Technology in Food Safety

By Doug White
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Doug White, PSSI

We live in a world where information on any subject is at our fingertips and can be accessed instantly. These real-time notifications keep us up to date on whatever topics we choose. This information helps guide our daily decisions and communicate more effectively with each other.

The same is true in business. We can be more efficient and make more informed decisions based on the information we have at various points throughout our day. However, for many companies and industries, the key is figuring out what information is needed and how it can be transmitted in real-time to increase the efficiency or effectiveness of the work.

In an industry not known for being on the leading edge of new technology, it is still not uncommon to have data captured using the good old pad and pencil method. This, unfortunately, limits visibility and the timely application of that information. This is especially critical when it comes to sanitation and food safety data. It is a complex, high-risk industry with tight timelines and lots of moving parts (figuratively and literally), and various teams working together 24/7.

The 2019 Food Safety Consortium Conference & Expo features a dedicated track on Cleaning & Sanitation | Attend the event October 1–3 | Schaumburg, ILAdditionally, new rules and regulations around FSMA require processors to have more detailed documentation of a food safety plan and produce data proving adherence to that plan during plant inspections. Processors must show that best practices are being followed and address any instances where concerns may arise with immediate corrective actions, or face potential fines or temporary shutdown of production.

The bottom line is, technology is no longer a “nice to have”, it is a must have. Data is our friend and, if used appropriately, can significantly help mitigate risk and improve food safety.

Innovation in Sanitation

Specifically in the sanitization process, there is a distinct science-based, data-driven approach that can be used to document and report on the consistency and effectiveness of each cleaning process. However, without the right experience or specific microbiological training, it is hard for a processor to know what to document, how to document it and why it matters.

For instance, as part of standard operating procedures, our team always monitors and documents four key factors that can influence a successful cleaning process: Time, temperature, concentration of cleaning agents and mechanical force (i.e., water pressure). If any one variable as part of the sanitization process is off, it can impact the overall effectiveness of the cleaning.

This is the type of risk-based data that can be applied as part of FSMA reporting and compliance.

However, the real opportunity for improving food safety is about the visibility of that data and how it can be used to adjust the sanitization processes in real-time.

I was fortunate to be part of a team that developed and implemented a new real-time performance metrics platform over the last year. It is a digital system that helps sanitation teams proactively track and respond to critical data that can impact the effectiveness of the sanitation process.

Replacing the pen-and-paper method is a system in which data is logged digitally into an application on a tablet or mobile device in real-time during the sanitation process.

Site managers closely monitor data, which can be shared or accessed by other stakeholders to perform analytics and make real-time adjustments to the sanitation process. The system sends alerts and notifications regarding changes or updates that must be made as well.

From internal communications to coordination with USDA and FDA inspectors, it supports a much more seamless communication structure as well. Employees feel more confident and empowered to manage the sanitation process and partners feel armed with the right information and data to focus on managing the needs of their business.

As an industry, I believe we have a great opportunity ahead of us to continue advancing food safety. The technology and tools are there to support us. It is a matter of taking small steps to innovate and improve efficiencies in our own businesses every day that will have a drastic impact on the industry as a whole.

Megan Nichols
FST Soapbox

Technology Tools Improving Food Safety

By Megan Ray Nichols
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Megan Nichols

To cap off a tumultuous year for foodborne illnesses, the end of 2018 saw a rather large E. coli outbreak that affected several different types of lettuce. In all, about 62 people got sick in the United States, with another 29 affected in Canada. The outbreak was traced back to a farm in California thanks to a specific DNA fingerprint in the E. coli. It started in a water reservoir and spread to the nearby crops.

Unfortunately, the event was only one of two separate incidents involving romaine lettuce last year. Another E.coli outbreak was traced back to a source in Arizona. Are these outbreaks more common than we realize? The CDC estimates that 48 million Americans fall ill each year from foodborne pathogens. Of those who get sick, 128,000 have to be hospitalized, and about 3,000 perish.

It’s clear that the industry as a whole needs to buckle down and find more effective solutions, not just for preventing outbreaks but also for mitigating damage when they happen. A new level of safety and management can be achieved with the help of many new, innovative technologies.

The following are some of the technology tools shaping the future of food safety and quality management fields.

Blockchain

As a result of the E. coli outbreak, Walmart implemented blockchain technology to track leafy greens and boost supply chain transparency. The systems and infrastructure is anticipated to be in place by the end of 2019.

Blockchain is a secure, digital ledger. It holds information about various transactions and data, all of which are carried out on the network. It’s called a blockchain because each data set within the network is a chunk or “block,” and they’re all linked to one another—hence the chain portion of the name. What this allows for is complete transparency throughout the supply chain, because you can track goods from their origin all the way to distribution and sale.

Each block is essentially a chunk of information, and when it’s entered into the chain, it cannot be altered, modified or manipulated. It’s simply there for viewing publicly. You cannot alter information contained within a single block without modifying the entire chain—which operates much like a peer-to-peer network and is split across many devices and servers.
This unique form of security establishes trust, accuracy and a clear representation of what’s happening. It allows a company to track contaminated foods along their journey, stopping them before they contaminate other goods or reach customers.

Infrared Heating

Thanks to the rising popularity of ready-to-eat meals, the industry is under pressure to adopt preservation and pasteurization methods. Particularly, they must be able to sanitize foods and package them with minimal exposure and bacteria levels. This practice allows them to stay fresh for longer and protects customers from potential foodborne illness.

Infrared heating is a method of surface pasteurization, and has been used for meats such as ham. Infrared lamps radiate heat at low temperatures, effectively killing surface bacteria and contaminants. The idea is to decontaminate or sanitize the surface of foods before final packaging occurs.

Industrial IoT and Smart Sensors

The food and beverage industry has a rather unique challenge with regard to supply chain operations. Food may be clean and correctly handled at the source with no traces of contamination, but it’s then passed on to a third party, which changes the game. Maybe a refrigerated transport breaks down, and the food within is thawed out. Perhaps a distributor doesn’t appropriately store perishable goods, resulting in serious contamination.

This transportation stage can be more effectively tracked and optimized with the help of modern IoT and smart, connected sensors. RFID tags, for instance, can be embedded in the packaging of foods to track their movements and various stats. Additional sensors can monitor storage temps, travel times, unexpected exposure, package tears and more.

More importantly, they’re often connected to a central data processing system where AI and machine learning platforms or human laborers can identify problematic changes. This setup allows supply chain participants to take action sooner in order to remedy potential problems or even pull contaminated goods out of the supply.

They can also help cut down on fraud or falsified records, which is a growing problem in the industry. Imagine an event where an employee says that a package was handled properly via forms or reporting tools, yet it was exposed to damaging elements. The implications of even simple fraud can be significant. Technology that automatically and consistently reports information—over manual entry—can help eliminate this possibility altogether.

Next-Generation Sequencing

NGS refers to a high-throughput DNA sequencing process that is now available to the food industry as a whole. It’s cheaper, more effective and takes a lot less time to complete, which means DNA and RNA sequencing is more accessible to food companies and suppliers now than it ever has been.

NGS can be used to assess and sequence hundreds of different samples at a time at rates of up to 25 million reads per experiment. What that means is that monitoring teams can accurately identify foodborne pathogens and contamination at the speed of the modern market. It is also a highly capable form of food safety measurement and is quickly replacing older, molecular-based methods like PCR.

Ultimately, NGS will lead to vastly improved testing and measurement processes, which can identify potential issues faster and in higher quantities than traditional methods. The food industry will be all the better and safer for it.

The Market Is Ever Evolving

While these technologies are certainly making a splash—and will shape the future of the food safety industry—they do not exist in a vacuum. There are dozens of other technologies and solutions being explored. It is important to understand that many new technologies could rise to the surface even within the next year.

The good news is that it’s all meant to improve the industry, particularly when it comes to the freshness, quality and health of the goods that consumers eat.

Technology Helps Your Food Safety Employees Work Smarter, Not Harder

By Maria Fontanazza
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As the use of technology in manufacturing and quality continues to expand, there are many opportunities to help food companies streamline operations and enhance efficiencies. During a brief chat with Food Safety Tech, Melody Ge, head of compliance at Corvium, Inc. talks about the benefits of using technology in manufacturing and why some companies may be hesitant to take the leap.

Food Safety Tech: Your recent Food Safety Tech article, “Changes in the Food Safety Industry: Face Them or Ignore Them”, highlighted the role of technology in improving efficiency. What are the top areas in which companies are challenged to streamline processes?

Melody Ge, Corvium
Melody Ge, head of compliance at Corvium, Inc.

Melody Ge: When talking about a company’s production process, the challenge usually comes from where to start. A company may have difficulty figuring out which areas in the processing line can either be automated or how they can use technology as an advantage.

The challenge could also come from the fact that only parts of the process can be automated with the current technology. For example, with hazard analysis or risk assessment—those processes still need the human brain. So within a process, part of it can be automated, and part of it can’t—that could be another challenge.

FST: What technologies can food companies use to better help them manage risk in manufacturing?

Ge: It depends on what’s out there and what products a company is producing. From a manufacturing perspective, they can use supply chain management software or document management software to help them manage their approved supplier program. Using technology can make it easier and more efficient for companies to manage the risks from incoming goods and suppliers as it centralizes their documentation to make it easy to access.

Technology also helps companies use online software to centralize training documents on one corporate site and deploy it to all employees at different levels.

And from a HACCP and Preventive Controls perspective, companies can use digital technology to document temperature, pH Value, humidity, pathogen testing results, etc.—all the types of data that help execute a HACCP plan can be automated and help manage risk. After all the information is centralized and digitalized, you can see the data and easily translate that to help manage risk.

FST: What are the current technology adoption hurdles, and how are you helping companies understand the value of technology versus a paper-based system?

Ge: I think some hurdles come from fear: What’s going to happen as a result of technology is unknown, and especially at this stage, how FDA will respond is unknown. FDA already announced that this smarter food safety era is coming, but no one knows whether there will be new requirements as a result. Will requirements change because manufacturers are using new technology? Those unknowns make manufacturers fearful about what’s going to happen.

Another fear factor is job loss. For example, if processes are automated, or AI is used to capture data, or record keeping is automated, then what am I going to do? Does the company still need me as a QA professional or supervisor? I think those can stand in the way of making changes. However, [companies or employees] shouldn’t think that way. Technology is not replacing QA professionals, but [rather it] helps them do higher-level jobs. For example, in the time saved by technology, QA professionals can read and digest the data results, and study the trends and recommend best practices to continuously improve their food safety management system. It makes their time more valuable to the company.

Another hurdle is understanding which steps in processes can be automated. There are so many technologies out there that have pros and cons, and whether it will fit with the manufacturer or the facility—there’s an overwhelming amount of information, and the QA technician needs time to digest and understand the process at the facility as well as the technology out there to then select the most suitable technology for a process.

As far as helping companies understand the ROI of technology, there are four areas where I think technology can add value:

  1. It provides increased efficiencies and accuracy of daily operations and data collection. It reduces human error. Let the technology help the food safety professionals document daily operational data.
  2. It streamlines the food safety management system for continuous improvement. Because technology helps the food safety professional do the job of daily data collection, the time saved can be used wisely to study the data and outcomes, and truly understand how they can bring their food safety management system to another level.
  3. It centralizes all the documents and records for management. Using technology, the food safety professional can see their SOPs, records and any related documents in one place. They don’t have to physically go to several places to see what’s happening operationally. This can also help increase efficiency during the audit process.
  4. Centralized data helps the food safety professional more easily see where the deficiencies are located.

Ultimately, the ROI is that advanced technology can help the food safety professional increase operational efficiency, reduce product waste and production downtime.

FST: Any additional comments about the role of technology in food manufacturing?

Ge: In echoing on FDA’s announcement, although the smarter food safety era comes with using advanced technology, the mentality has not changed as all—it’s always FSMA based and people led. We need people to use the technology, and that foundation isn’t changing. We are protecting our consumers from any potential food safety risk. We’re just using a more efficient way to help all of us achieve this goal. I believe in the future, all food facilities will use at least one technology out there to help them automate one or more processing steps. And if you start with one step at a time, it will generally take over the entire production process.

Visit Corvium at next week’s Food Safety Supply Chain Conference at USP in Rockville, MD. Unable to travel? Attend the program virtually!

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech

Can We Make Progress Before the Next Food Safety Crisis?

By Maria Fontanazza
1 Comment
Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech

A recall or outbreak occurs. Consumers stop buying the food. Industry responds with product innovation. Government enters the picture by establishing standards, initiatives, etc. “That’s my thesis about how changes happen,” said Michael Taylor, board co-chair of Stop Foodborne Illness during a keynote presentation at last week’s Food Safety Summit. Industry has seen a positive evolution over the past 25-plus years, but in order to continue to move forward in a productive direction of prevention, progress must be made without waiting for the next crisis, urged the former FDA commissioner for foods and veterinary medicine.

The strong foundation is there, Taylor added, but challenges persist, including:

  • FSMA. There’s still much work to be done in establishing accountability across the board, including throughout supplier networks.
  • Lack of technology adoption. The failure to use already available tools that can help achieve real-time traceability.
  • Geographic hazards. This is a reference to the contamination that occurred in the cattle feedlot associated with the romaine lettuce outbreak in Yuma, Arizona. “We’re dealing with a massive hazard…and trying to manage the scientific ignorance about the risk that exists,” said Taylor. In addition, in February FDA released its report on the November 2018 E.coli O157:H7 outbreak originating from the Central Coast growing region in California, also implicating contaminated water as a potential source. “There are still unresolved issues around leafy greens,” Taylor said. “What are we going to learn from this outbreak?”

Taylor went on to emphasize the main drivers of industry progress: Consumers and the government. Consumer expectations for transparency is rising, as is the level of awareness related to supply chain issues. Social media also plays a large role in bringing consumers closer to the food supply. And the government is finding more outbreaks then ever, thanks to tools such as whole genome sequencing. So how can food companies and their suppliers keep up with the pace? A focus on building a strong food safety culture remains a core foundation, as does technological innovation—especially in the area of software. Taylor believes one of the keys to staying ahead of the curve is aggregating analytics and successfully turning them into actionable insights.

Frank Yiannas, FDA, Food Safety Summit, Food Safety Tech
Frank Yiannas is the keynote speaker at the 2019 Food Safety Consortium | October 1, 2019 | Schaumburg, IL | He is pictured here during at town hall with Steven Mandernach (AFDO), Robert Tauxe (CDC), and Paul Kiecker (USDA)

FDA recently announced its intent to put technology innovation front and center as a priority with its New Era of Food Safety initiative. “This isn’t a tagline. It’s a pause and the need for us to once again to look to the future,” said Frank Yiannas, FDA’s deputy commissioner for food and policy response during an town hall at the Food Safety Summit. “The food system is changing around us dramatically. Everything is happening at an accelerated pace. The changes that are happening in the next 10 years will be so much more than [what happened] in the past 20 or 30 years…We have to try to keep up with the changes.” As part of this “new era”, the agency will focus on working with industry in the areas of digital technology in food traceability (“A lack of traceability is the Achilles heel of food,” said Yiannas), emerging technologies such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, and e-commerce. Yiannas said that FDA will be publishing a blueprint very soon to provide an idea of what areas will be the main focus of this initiative.